Junkyard Find: 1985 Mercedes-Benz 300D Turbodiesel With 411,448 Miles

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

I like to search for junkyard vehicles with exceptionally high final odometer readings, a task made more difficult by the fact that just about every manufacturer besides Volvo and Mercedes-Benz used five-digit odometers well into the 1980s. Even in the middle 1980s, most cars weren’t really expected to hit the 100,000-mile mark … unless they were Mercedes-Benzes with diesel engines, in which case their owners expected them to make it to 300,000 miles. Here’s an oil-fueled W123 in Colorado that exceeded even that expectation.

Yes, that’s 411,448 miles showing on the clock. I’ve seen discarded Mercedes-Benzes that beat this figure (for example, this gas-engined W201 with 601,173 miles, this diesel W126 with 572,139 miles, and this diesel W126 with 535,971 miles), and I’ll bet many of their brethren with missing instrument clusters and/or from the five-digit-odometer 1960s) bested those numbers. I find plenty of 300k+ Hondas and Toyotas, of course, and even this surprising 363,033-mile Olds Calais, but the 400,000-Mile Junkyard Club is a very exclusive one. I’ve seen this Volvo 740 Turbo Wagon with 493,549 miles, this second-gen Honda Accord with 411,794 miles, and this 411,344-mile Toyota Tercel 4WD Wagon in recent years, plus a 1989 Pontiac LeMans that belongs in a junkyard yet will probably hit the 400k mark on the race track in the next couple of years.

1985 was the last model year for the legendary W123a, a fact I was able to look up in the junkyard without even going online. This 300D’s final owner printed out the entire English Wikipedia page for the W123 and kept it in the car. Was this to wave at prospective buyers intimidated by the astronomical odometer figure, or just to provide documentation for the driver to wave around when bragging to passengers about their amazingly reliable car? We’ll never know.

As is the case with most extreme-high-mile cars, this one had a lifetime of devoted maintenance and looked pretty clean even in the junkyard. All the factory-issue manuals were still in the glovebox after 35 years.

The keys were still in it when it reached this place, which— most of the time— means that the car was a dealership trade-in that no auction buyers would touch after its former owner left the lot in a new ride. A decades-old non-truck with absurdly high miles and a diesel engine won’t get much interest from used-car shoppers these days, particularly in AWD-crazed Colorado. Next stop, junkyard!

The interior looks nice, and the indestructible MB-Tex upholstery still thinks it’s February of 1985, when this car rolled off the assembly line in West Germany.

There’s some body-filler-and-paint rust repair in the typical corrosion spots, not as bad as some of the abominations I’ve seen but presumably done after the car depreciated to a very low level in our current century.

Since it appears that this car lived in New England at some point, that rust doesn’t seem so bad.

Here it is, the nearly immortal OM617 five-cylinder turbodiesel engine. This one was rated at 125 horsepower and 181 pound-feet when new, and I’ll bet it still worked fine when the forklift dropped this car into its final parking space. Sadly, it never had a chance to do any road-racing, a task at which the OM617 excels.

How much would you have paid for this car in running, driving condition? We’ll consider that the Question of the Day.

For links to 2,000+ more Junkyard Finds, visit the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Eng_alvarado90 Eng_alvarado90 on Dec 23, 2020

    A co-worker still has one of these, same color but his is an 81-82. Too bad his 300SD looks very beat up with washed out front fenders and some OEM but not period correct chrome alloys but mechanically speaking is a tank. He actually daily drives it. He's one of those guys who likes old Benzes and wouldn't sell his but has other priorities right now.

  • Jagboi Jagboi on Dec 27, 2020

    Highest mileage I have seen was a Crown Victoria taxi. Odometer was showing 469,000 km and there was a sticker in the door jam showing the dealer had replaced the odometer at 712,000km and reset the new odometer to zero. A total of 1,181,000 km or 733,839 miles.

    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Dec 28, 2020

      Years ago there was a guy in the Midwest who did something like 1.1 million document miles on an early 80s Townie.

  • Lou_BC Blows me away that the cars pictured are just 2 door vehicles. How much space do you need to fully open them?
  • Daniel J Isn't this sort of a bait and switch? I mean, many of these auto plants went to the south due to the lack of unions. I'd also be curious as how, at least in my own state, unions would work since the state is a right to work state, meaning employees can still work without being apart of the union.
  • EBFlex No they shouldn’t. It would be signing their death warrant. The UAW is steadfast in moving as much production out of this country as possible
  • Groza George The South is one of the few places in the U.S. where we still build cars. Unionizing Southern factories will speed up the move to Mexico.
  • FreedMike I'd say that question is up to the southern auto workers. If I were in their shoes, I probably wouldn't if the wages/benefits were at at some kind of parity with unionized shops. But let's be clear here: the only thing keeping those wages/benefits at par IS the threat of unionization.